“Functional Atheism”

This morning I was finishing Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak:  Listening for the Voice of Vocation.  While emboldening leaders to give more light than shadow, Palmer describes five shadows:

1.  Insecurity about identity and worth

“When we are insecure about our own identities, we create settings that deprive other people of their identitites as a way of buttressing our own.”  p. 86

2.  The belief that the universe is a battleground, hostile to human interests.

Romans 8:28 “All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purposes.”

3.  “Functional atheism,” the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us.

“. . . that if anything decent is going to happen here, we are the ones show must make it happen – a conviction held even by people who talk a good game about God.”  p. 88

4.  Fear, especially fear of the natural chaos of life

“We want to organize and orchestrate things so thoroughly that messiness will never bubble up around us and threaten to overwhelm us (for “messiness” read dissent, innovation, challenge, and change).”  p. 89

– on the inner journey we learn chaos is the forerunner for creativity.

5.  Denial of death; fear of failure

“The good scientist does not fear the death of a hypothesis, because that ‘failure’ clarifies the steps that need to be taken toward truth, sometimes more than a hypothesis that succeeds.”  p. 90

Much of Palmer’s reflections resonated with what I have observed or experienced, but the functional atheism touched a deep and resonating place for my today.  While deeply trusting Christ with the big strokes of life, I also want to participate (translate bulldoze) in getting stuff done.  Whether it is adoption paperwork, a friend’s need, a social change, I want it done yesterday.  When I was a teen, I had a friend in juvenile detention, and his parents weren’t visiting.  My father tried to be granted permission, but it was denied.  So I prayerfully prepared to go and visit.  My Mama prepped me, “Ellen, some day your will is going to meet with great disappointment because you can’t just will your way into what you think is right.”

Now my Mama was right; I did eventually meet that wall, but on that day, the doors were opened, and I was allowed to visit my friend.  Presently the adoption world has been a training ground to step away from “functional atheism,” and trust that while all moves at a snail’s pace to me, my good and capable Heavenly Father is at work in the mysterious places bringing about what my will or striving cannot do.  God’s ways and thoughts are not my, but they are higher and surer.


One thought on ““Functional Atheism”

  1. Thank you for this post. Just today I realized that I was trying to “worry my work into being.” I have somehow created an internal paradigm that success depends on not only my “perfect work”, but also my “perfect worry.” Time and again I leave God out of the equation. Time and time I must be reminded. Thank you for today’s reminder.

    John Fenner
    Director of Courage & Renewal Programs for Clergy and Congregational Leaders


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